By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division
Last week, the NTSB hosted a group of students from around the world who are studying or pursuing higher education degrees in traffic safety. They came to us through the International Roads Federation (IRF) Fellows Program, which works to develop transportation safety leaders worldwide.
The students were from diverse cultures—Lebanese, Iranian, Japanese, Colombian, Libyan, Mexican, Palestinian, and Brazilian—but they had one thing in common: they were all studying at universities in the United States.
It was an honor to be chosen by the IRF to help develop and grow these fellows. The group got to hear from Jim Ritter, Director of Research and Engineering; Lisandra Garay-Vega, Supervisory Transportation Specialist; David Pereira, Vehicle Factors Investigator; and several of our lab experts.
In transportation safety, we often ask how we can change safety culture? This question applies in one way to organizations, looking at how a company’s culture might influence a driver’s actions of a driver. This kind of safety culture is widely studied but involves only the minority of accidents/crashes. Most crashes involve everyday drivers operating personal motor vehicles. How do we change the safety perspectives of everyday drivers? We start with investing in young leaders like those who joined us during the visit.
In the United States, we lose more than 40,000 lives every year as a result of accidents and crashes in all modes of transportation. Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, we lose more than 1.35 million people every year on the roads, alone. When it comes to traffic safety, to truly change our safety culture, we must start with the younger generation. We must invest in ways to teach young children how to be safe on the roads long before they get behind the wheel for the first time. And we must invest our time in working with students like the IRF fellows, supporting their efforts to design transportation systems that protect all road users, not just those inside a motor vehicle.
At the NTSB, we strive to encourage and develop young safety leaders—teaching them to build bridges for others to cross, lay stepping stones for others to walk upon and shoulders for them to stand upon. Our core value of excellence goes beyond our central mission of issuing safety recommendations; it also applies to excellence in the service of others. In advocacy, it demands we pass along information to young leaders who will carry the mantel with a goal of safer transportation worldwide. We wish them well and lots of success.
As Chief of the NTSB’s Safety Advocacy Division, I firmly believe in taking time to visit with young and novice drivers and promoting safe driving habits in line with the NTSB’s safety advocacy goals. Last week, I addressed students at Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) Annual Conference.
Each year, the conference features a visit by Corporate Round Table (CRT) members to a local high school. There, team members engage high school juniors and seniors, educating and empowering them to pursue professional development, foster individual strengths, and strive for excellence.
The NBCSL’s CRT has a rich history of working with schools across the country to provide high school students with essential insights and knowledge about careers and professional development. CRT members have long positively impacted the youth with whom they work. The theme for this year’s CRT visit was “L.E.A.D: Leadership, Excellence, Attitude, Determination.” Team members discussed the importance of leadership today, and the importance of cultivating leadership skills necessary to succeed tomorrow.
But, as I told the students at Stranahan High School, what’s most basic to all these aspirational goals is to live long enough to build that bright future for themselves and others.
My part in the presentation was to make the young audience aware of the many dangers and challenges they may face on the road, and to arm them with the right driving habits to actually arrive at adulthood. Just as youth must first make it safely to adulthood to have the chance to tackle the leadership challenges to which they aspire, they must also learn to lead themselves before they can successfully lead others. As John C. Maxwell once wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” The first step in the leadership journey is self-leadership.
That goes double for making our roads a safer place for all.
In 2018, more than 36,000 people died in traffic crashes. For young people like those I talked to last week, the best chance to stay alive to adulthood is to not be involved in a traffic crash, either as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, cyclist, or motorcyclist. The deadly effect of traffic crashes on teenage lives will only change when our culture around road safety changes, and the only way that shift can take place is if we each personally embody the change we wish to see in the world.
Driving sober, disconnecting from our phones and other devices, buckling up, and obeying the speed limit are all simple—and safe—practices. However, making the right choice consistently takes integrity (doing the right thing even when nobody is watching). In road safety, knowing the way is not always the hard part. The ability to consistently go the way, and to show others the way, separates leaders from followers.
Holding ourselves accountable for our conduct on the road is the first step toward the cultural shift we need to ensure our nation’s youth make it to adulthood to fulfill their goals.
For previous blogs on the NBCSL school visits, see the links below:
At the NTSB, we determine the cause of transportation crashes and accidents, and issue safety recommendations that, if implemented, could save lives and minimize injuries. Unfortunately, we see far too many tragedies that could have been easily prevented. As we head into the holiday season, Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg and Member Jennifer Homendy share some travel safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe on our roads, on our rails, on our waterways and in the air.
Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who use a cell phone every day while driving? It’s so convenient, but it’s also potentially deadly. Thousands of people across the nation will lose their lives this year to this preventable public health problem. Tens of thousands more will suffer life-altering injuries, ranging from internal organ damage to permanent paralysis. A recent AAA survey found that 97 percent of drivers indicated that texting or email on a cellphone while driving was very or extremely dangerous and nearly 80 percent indicated holding and talking on a cellphone while driving was perceived as very or extremely dangerous. Yet, a majority of those drivers admitted to using their cellphone while driving. Why?
Most people believe that they are above-average drivers and multitaskers. However, the science says otherwise. The human brain, a single-core processor, does not multitask—it processes sequentially. Depending on the complexity of the tasks we’re attempting, our ability to keep up with multiple tasks drops due to overload. You see it on the road every day: poor lane-keeping, running red lights and stop signs, not moving when the light changes or failing to keep pace with traffic. Distraction too often manifests in a collision with another vehicle, an object, or a pedestrian. The science says that some people are literally addicted to their devices, and while most addictions are just detrimental to the user, with distracted driving, both the abuser and the innocent drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists near them are in jeopardy.
On the spectrum of distraction, talking on a cell phone, even with a handsfree device, is bad, but texting is even worse. Take your eyes off the road for more than 3 seconds, and the odds of a bad outcome go up quickly. In fact, a naturalistic driving study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or near crash by as much as 23 times. A car traveling at 55 mph goes about the length of a football field in those 3 seconds, and, let’s be honest, it takes most people far more than 3 seconds to send a text. Each extra second multiplies the danger.
In 2011, we recommended that all states ban the use of personal electronic devices, for nondriving tasks, when the vehicle is in motion. Today, although most states have laws against texting and driving, two still don’t: Missouri and Montana. Why not? Those who oppose a ban in these states often argue that they don’t want yet another law interfering with their already over‑regulated lives. They insist it’s a matter of personal freedom.
We recently held a distracted driving round table in Missouri where we heard from survivor advocates, advocates, experts, and legislators on the need to enact a law to address the distracted driving problem in the state. The survivor advocates who have lost loved ones would tell you that a comprehensive distracted driving law could have prevented the life-altering tragedy they’ve endured that no one should have to experience.
Polls show that Americans typically support restrictions on device use, which is why most states have already enacted laws, but a few legislators are uneasy about passing laws that might be perceived as over‑reaching. A vocal minority believe their convenience outweighs the public’s right to safety on the road; however, no one has the right to put another person at risk. The reality is, distracted driving is no different than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They’re both intentional acts that cause crashes that can result in death and life-altering injuries to innocent people. Safety advocates tell drivers they can either drink or drive; they also should be telling drivers they can either text or drive.
While states continue to debate the extent of their personal electronic device bans, you can act on your own to save a life, regardless of the law in your state. Put the phone down when your vehicle is in motion. As we work toward a future where using a cell phone while driving is as unacceptable as driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, we all have a personal responsibility to help eliminate the deadly distractions on our roadways.
In 2017, 37,133 people died on our nation’s roadways in preventable crashes. One way to prevent or mitigate these tragedies is by implementing proven and effective vehicle technologies, such as collision-avoidance systems. We know these systems can save lives, and our current Most Wanted List includes “Implementing Collision Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles.” We want to see these technologies installed as standard equipment on all vehicles, and we want consumers to know which systems offer the best protection when they are buying a car.
That’s why, in a 2015 special investigation report, we called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) 5-star rating system to include collision‑avoidance system ratings, and to post those ratings on the new-vehicle window sticker. The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) also required that crash-avoidance information be presented next to crashworthiness information on the window sticker. The NCAP 5-star rating system—which the United States pioneered in 1979— provides valuable information to consumers about crashworthiness, including protection from frontal and side impacts and vehicle rollover. This information can lead to consumers making safer choices, which will motivate manufacturers to design safer cars—it’s a win-win for consumers and for public safety! But NCAPs are most effective when they continuously raise the bar and, while NCAPs in other nations have progressed, the US NCAP has not made any significant program updates in more than a decade.
In recent years, NHTSA has sought public comments on a potential plan to update and modify the US NCAP. For example, in 2015, the agency discussed potentially updating its crashworthiness testing to add a crash-avoidance rating that would incorporate the effectiveness of multiple safety technologies and to create an overall 5-star rating that would encompass crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and pedestrian protection. The NTSB knew that it was possible to incorporate collision avoidance and other safety features into NCAP ratings because other NCAPs around the world had already done so, and we publicly supported these plans to expand the NCAP rating system. We encouraged NHTSA to move forward.
In our 2017 safety study on speeding, we called on NHTSA to consider using the NCAP to incentivize passenger vehicle manufacturers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems, and in our 2018 special investigation report on pedestrian safety, we recommended that the agency incorporate pedestrian safety systems, including pedestrian collision-avoidance systems and other more passive safety systems, into the NCAP. As of today, these recommendations remain open.
Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death and injury in the United States. We want to see more vehicles using collision-avoidance systems to save lives—but they can only save lives if people know they exist and understand how to use them. This makes the NCAP, a successful program on which car buyers already rely, the perfect avenue for increasing consumer awareness of the latest safety technology and, ultimately, making our roads safer.
As we mark the 40th anniversary of the US NCAP program, let’s take advantage of the program’s success and use this moment to make it even stronger. Our nation’s road users deserve it.
By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division
In today’s world, distractions are everywhere. From the electronic device in our hands to the infotainment options built into our vehicles, we are surrounded by hundreds of things vying for our attention every day. Even if we try to block out these distractions, despite our best efforts, our minds are not capable of multitasking like we think they are. When distraction happens on the road, the consequences can be deadly. What distracted-driving crashes leave behind are families and loved ones struggling to cope with sudden, tragic loss. Distracted driving is a serious threat to the safety of everyone on the road, and the NTSB is committed to eliminating it. This issue has been on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 2011, but it remains a serious problem.
As technology becomes more ubiquitous in our lives, distraction risks increase—not only for drivers and passengers in cars, but also for cyclists and pedestrians, as well. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia have tried to reduce distracted driving by prohibiting all drivers from texting while driving. Unfortunately, Missouri is one of the two states without a cell phone restriction that would prevent drivers over the age of 21 from texting while driving. As a result, 841 people have died in crashes related to distracted driving since 2010, when we recommended that states enact legislation prohibiting the nonemergency use of personal electronic devices for alldrivers. The Missouri Department of Transportation reported that, in 2018 alone, 19,239 motor vehicle crashes involved distracted drivers. Those crashes resulted in 79 fatalities and 7,345 injuries. Until the law in Missouri is changed, these crashes will continue to happen. Only by completely removing the distraction will the roads become a safer place.
Any use of a cellphone or other electronic device will always come with increased and unnecessary risk. This includes hands-free devices; just because our hands are on the wheel doesn’t mean our minds are focused on the road. Science has repeatedly shown us that holding a conversation using a hands-free device still creates a cognitive distraction that makes us more likely to be involved in an avoidable crash. There is no such thing as safe cellphone use on the road, and, unfortunately, many people learn this the hard way, when it’s ultimately too late.
On October 29th, the NTSB, in partnership with StopDistractions.org, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, and the University of Missouri, will host our fourth roundtable on distracted driving. The even will bring together researchers, state and federal government officials, victims’ families, and other safety advocates to discuss strategies to prevent distracted driving. For more information about this roundtable event and to register, visit our website.
Legislation and enforcement are critical to making our roads safer, but, ultimately, it comes down to people taking personal responsibility. We have the power to make choices that can positively or negatively affect ourselves as well as others. Choose to put aside that temptation to send one more message, make a quick call, or post an update or photo. Your right choice could end up saving not only your own life, but someone else’s. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life. Visit the links below for more NTSB blogs on the dangers of distracted driving, and check out our Most Wanted List for more information on distracted driving.
On September 6, in Anchorage, Alaska, I facilitated a first-of-a-kind roundtable of industry operators, government officials, educators, and aviation associations. Troubled by investigations into too many crashes involving Part 135 flight operations (which include air medical service, air taxi, air tours, charter, and on-demand flights) in Alaska, we called together some of the brightest experts across industry, academia, and government to help answer one question: How can we improve the safety of flight operations involving these aircraft?
We had some ideas on how to answer that question already; the issue is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. For example, we know that safety management systems (SMS), flight data monitoring (FDM), and controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) training can help ensure that operators manage their planes and pilots in the safest possible way, reducing the chances of a crash. But we wanted to hear ideas from others—specifically those flying in Alaska, where Part 135 crashes are so prevalent—and urge operators and regulators to make some of the changes we believe will help.
Between January 2008 and June 2019, we investigated 204 fatal accidents in Alaska
involving fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, scheduled and nonscheduled, in Part 135 operations. These accidents killed 80 people. At the roundtable, Dana Schulze, the NTSB’s Director of Aviation Safety, briefed us on the leading causes of Part 135 accidents in Alaska, reporting that nearly 80 percent of fatal accidents in Alaska are due to CFIT, loss of control in flight, midair collisions, and unintended instrument meteorological conditions.
Alaska has several challenges compared to the “lower 48,” such as unique terrain conditions, difficult weather, and congested airspace. That’s why we thought it important to talk specifically to those navigating this terrain. However, the deadly consequences of a crash are the same, regardless of where it occurs, and aviators across the country should be concerned with the issues we discussed at the roundtable.
I kicked off the roundtable of 29 experts, many of whom were operators, with a reminder that there is a business case for safety. I challenged the panel to come up with concrete solutions that we could collectively address. From the start, we agreed on one thing: the September 6 roundtable wouldn’t just be a conversation; it would be a call to action.
Our panelists discussed four key areas: training, risk management, technology, and infrastructure. We were pleased to see that many of their ideas related to these topics aligned with recommendations the NTSB has already issued, which are noted below. However, we welcome a discussion about any and all other potential improvement areas. Areas which the panelists agreed that they will evaluate further and perhaps pursue individually and collectively included:
Cue-based (simulator) training has an impact on pilot decision-making and should be encouraged and required. Pilots taking CFIT training on a simulator performed significantly better on subsequent real-world flights than those who didn’t. (Note: the NTSB supports and has made recommendations to improve CFIT training for pilots).
To improve safety, operators must consider five safety principles: knowledgeable pilots, training, proficiency, reliable equipment, and culture.
The five things every operation must do are (1) realize it needs to change, (2) have a project champion, (3) create clearly defined standard operating procedures, (4) offer quality assurance systems, and (5) mentor/train employees.
We must do a better job of training the trainers.
As part of our training discussion, we talked about the recent closing of the Medallion Foundation, a flight safety advocacy organization in Alaska, and its impact on the industry. Medallion simulators will continue to be available to Alaska’s pilot community after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines where those simulators will be placed.
An SMS is important and worthwhile for improving safety, but it should be scalable
depending on the size of the operator. Smaller operators may find it economically wise to outsource their safety assurance/FDM programs. (Note: As mentioned earlier in the blog, the NTSB has issued recommendations requiring SMS and FDM). One roundtable participant pointed out that there are 303 Part 135 operators in Alaska; of those, only eight are in the FAA’s SMS program.
Safety management requires the commitment of company leadership, but it’s just as important to involve pilots, mechanics, and management in the process so they recognize the value of an SMS, too.
An SMS should be a required prerequisite to participate in any federally funded programs, such as U.S. mail delivery and Medicare/Medicaid transport.
Useful data can be found in the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program. Carriers can benefit from the aggregated data collected in this information-sharing program.
Operators should equip their planes, either voluntarily or by requirement, with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology, and the FAA should consider helping smaller operators fund such an improvement. In Alaska, ADS-B is only required in the Class C airspace above Ted Stevens International Airport, and above 18,000 feet. We discussed the FAA requiring ADS-B in high-risk airspace, such as around the village of Bethel.
Pilots and air traffic controllers need more ground-based station coverage in strategic locations.
A terrain alert warning system (TAWS) should be an aid, not a navigational tool. There’s a tendency for some operators to inhibit their TAWS because of its low-altitude nuisance alerts; this is a hazard that needs to be mitigated. (Note: the NTSB has made recommendations in this area).
Technologies such as digital cockpit, 406 emergency locator transmitters, FDM equipment, and flight-following equipment look promising and should be considered.
When it comes to weather management, a meteorological automatic weather station isn’t authorized as a weather tool, but flight service will provide it as a supplement upon request. Satellite programs are showing promise for predicting icing and cloudy conditions.
We need to enable more flights to operate under instrument flight rules and improve visual flight rules (VFR) operations (weather camera stations). Alaska should consider establishing a common traffic advisory frequency division across the state.
ADS-B can help in remote locations. Special VFRs and letters of agreement would also be helpful.
Federal money should be committed to improving infrastructure. For example, the FAA could establish a Capstone II program in Alaska, but very small carriers will need help with funding.
We need more pilot information reports to validate radar returns and polar satellites, and to fill in the gaps of weather station coverage.
Operators and pilots should better use air traffic control services.
We at the NTSB are committed to doing our part to improve Part 135 safety. Currently, the FAA does not apply the same requirements to Part 135 operators as it does to Part 121 commercial airlines. We believe that, regardless of the purpose of flight, one thing is for sure: all flights should be safe. But we don’t have to wait for the FAA to regulate; we know that operators can—and should—make the appropriate changes.
Perhaps the most significant takeaway and critical action suggested at the roundtable—upon which the entire group agreed—was related to the need for one group, organization, or entity to focus on flight operation safety issues in Alaska. I agree. FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson has also indicated that this concept of a “single focal point” in Alaska may be worthwhile. It looks like the time to act is now.
We greatly appreciate all the experts who came to this event and participated in our vigorous discussion. We are convinced that this roundtable will lead to life-saving improvements in Alaska that will then serve as models for the rest of the world.
This event would not have been successful without the dedicated NTSB staff who worked tirelessly to plan and execute it, and the great participation of the panelists.
Thanks for all for the contributions!
For more details on this event, including participants and agenda, or to learn more about Part 135 safety, watch the event recording and see our event web page.